The Case of Justifying Cheating in Fallout 76

Bethesda wants a written essay on why its bad to cheat in its broken game

Bethesda can’t help itself from generating bad press. After a string of disasters all related to Fallout 76’s launch, including misleading marketing, Bethesda has started banning players for “Cheating”. What falls under the definition of cheating seems broad, as people have reported that using quality of life mods (such as graphics enhancers) were also considered cheating by the company. Whether or not I believed all reports, what came next from Bethesda truly stunned me.

The company decided that instead of players simply appealing the bans, they should write essays on why cheating is bad, to be reviewed by Bethesda’s senior staff like its a highschool and they caught a bunch of students copying the answers to a test. After reading this I was truly speechless. I couldn’t process how a multi million company that produced some of the most groundbreaking and commercially successful games in history, is so completely and utterly deranged in the way it treats its customers.

Recovering from the shock of Bethesda’s audacity, I’ve decided to pick up the glove it tried to throw down in challenge, smacked itself squarely in the face only to stumble and fall down flat on its ass, and write said essay. Though I haven’t bought Fallout 76 nor was banned for cheating on that horrendous mess it dares call a “AAA” game with the biggest quotation marks on the planet, I hope I could still get some course credit from clown university’s own professor Bethesda and dean Todd “It just works” Howard.

I am not going to delve into the psychology of cheating. Suffice to say its a complex and, though fascinating, is beyond the scope of this article. I won’t go into the history of cheating either, as long and venerable as it is. This is not the article’s intent. Instead I’ll focus a bit on the how (only a tad, I am no programmer) and why people did cheat in Bethesda games in the past and may be cheating in Fallout 76. With that in mind, lets jump in.

There are pretty much only two ways to cheat in modern games, either accessing the developer console and inputting codes or using outside programs for it. These programs can be divided into two categories; Cheat Engine and trainers. I am not a programmer as I professed before, but I do know that both programs basically inject code into the game to achieve intended effects. What they are depends on the script and creator, with Cheat Engine being a more recognized, multi purpose tool while other trainers are usually tailored for specific games.

Okay, so now we know how to cheat, the next question is why we’d cheat in Fallout 76. The logical answer would be the same reason people cheated in previous Bethesda games. The common sense answer would be because Fallout 76 is a horrendous mess of a game.

In an average Bethesda game, the amount of bugs and exploits can be mind numbing. The fact that there are titles that have gone years without even a rudimentary fix, including the best selling game the company ever produced such as Skyrim, whose remaster contained all the same bugs as before, should speak volumes. Time and again I found myself glitching on terrain, requiring the no clipping code just to untangle myself from the landscape rather than reload a previous save which would have meant undoing an hour or so of progress.

Add to it old game design that even in today’s standards seems terrible and unbalanced and you have a recipe for disaster. One example are the weight limits. All the time I spent listening to friends playing Fallout 76, one of the most common complaints was about the weight limits. Conversation often drifted to discussing the ways to exploit and increase them since looting and fast traveling in that game seemed to be the main activities my friends were occupied with. All of this made me remember my own experiences in Skyrim.

In Skyrim, I often found myself over encumbered after visiting a dungeon or two, even after building my own manor house because fast traveling back to my home to unload would often break the pace of the game for me, further diminishing my immersion. When players spend half the time in loading screens, its not a show of good game design. In fact, after a week of dealing with the tedium of been nothing more than a glorified sherpe, I decided to make a rare decision and remove the weight restrictions in the game using a mod. The impact was monumental. From a game I played begrudgingly, always mindful of the damn weight limits, it became a fun game of exploration and discovery. It was that simple, yet impactful a change.

This is of course just one example, but there are many more. Suffice to say that Bethesda had prided itself on making huge expansive sand boxes with plenty of stories and locations for players to discover. Yet the mechanics it chose to implement in those games seem at odds with those very goals. This results in a lot of frustration, annoyance and tedium. What is left for players who want to experience those worlds but not be limited by such oppressive mechanics? Cheat of course.

Yes, a lot in a Bethesda game is improved with cheating. There is no debating that. If removing weight limits made exploration so much more enjoyable in Skyrim, I shudder to think what it would do in Fallout 76. After all, no one goes into a Bethesda game to experience the mediocre at best combat system or the agency lacking stories (in fact I never really finished the main storyline in Skyrim and I played that game for over 200 hours!) but explore the vast worlds presented by the games.

Since Bethesda games were until now singleplayer, no one batted an eye about cheating. No one would care if a fellow player cheated just to enjoy the world. After all, the conversations I had about Skyrim revolved around side quests and locales. For this reason many felt, quite rightfully I believe, that cheating in a Bethesda game was not a big issue. I am with them. If it helped them enjoy the game, more power to them.

Bethesda must have thought the same because it allowed the community to mod these games to kingdom come. These were not just the usual cosmetics or quality of life mods often seen in many games of the nature, but some that took the game a few steps forward. These mods would range from fixing persistent bugs that the developers themselves haven’t touched even after years of reports to adding or modifying existing mechanics comprehensively. Better UIs (especially inventory!), improved AIs and more detailed fast travel maps are just the few I had to install just to get a more satisfying game experience. In fact, playing Skyrim without mods is seen detrimental to the enjoyment of the average player. Think about that!

Bethesda studios themselves encouraged this I think, partly out of sheer laziness and cost cutting measures. If the modders fix the bugs and implement long overdue UI changes to the game, then Bethesda wouldn’t need to invest resources and developer hours in doing the bare minimum required of a game studio – making sure their game works consistently. This in turn cultivated its own mindset in the community of fixing the game through intermediaries since the company itself was untrustworthy in that regard and often broke more than fixed with the few patches it did issue.

Which leads us to Fallout 76. Let’s put it simply, the company lied in its marketing. It sought to use its fan base and expand further by promising a cooperative, online experience for Fallout players while emphasizing survival mechanics and PvP to a crowd that already had plenty games of that type to choose from (H1Z1, Rust, The Forest to name a few). Marrying these two populations was an impossible feat to begin with, not helped with Bethesda’s buggy, poorly optimized engine and the implementation of the same tired mechanics that work against the players. Bethesda was courting disaster to begin with.

Thus, when players got the mess that was Fallout 76, they did the one thing they’ve been conditioned to do in previous titles: Mod, cheat and exploit the heck out of the game to glean some enjoyment from their purchase. In most multiplayer games, especially ones involving PvP, a company would put some resources into anti-cheating programs. Bethesda, ever the lazy developer it is, chose to put one line of code about detecting Cheat Engine and called it a day. To say it was laughable would be to spit in the face of all the Fallout 76 players that had to endure this catastrophe.

Of course, etiquette, not to say conscience, would require players in online games not to cheat. That is just good manners. That said, Fallout 76 is not a competitive online game. The PvP handshake is such a joke, that most players just end up avoiding it. Even if someone chooses to engage in PvP, they are put into such a great disadvantage from the start, that its hardly worth it. Worst yet, there is even less of an incentive to go through it as the rewards themselves are poultry in comparison to the effort put into the whole thing. That is if the damage bug doesn’t strike the instigator. Fun, no? (The worst part is describing this reminded me of The Division’s PvP system and that is depressing on a whole different level)

So they cheat. They cheat to make the whole mess bearable. They cheat because they want to explore the world without the myriad of hindrances that Bethesda implemented with its shoddy design. They cheat because that is what they’ve come to expect from a Bethesda game and they cheat because in reality it has no real lasting effect on an ever diminishing online community as more and more players leave the game due to general dissatisfaction.

And now Bethesda woke up to see the utter desolation, not unlike the world of the game it created, and decided to act and curb what were acceptable norms up until this moment. Not for the players sake, of course, but for its own bottom line. If it truly cared about the health of the player base it would have overhauled its game design. It would have put more time into optimizing its engine. It wouldn’t have created an online shop and told people that mods will be supported only a year after launch. All of this speak of a company that was happy to allow its stale mechanics to devolve further, creating a horrible grind just so it could later down the line sell the fixes to its playerbase. Like a sleazy salesperson creating the very problem to which they just so happens to have a solution for. Scummy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Faced with all the broken promises and features. Hours of endless grind. Constant disconnects and glitches. Inability to save and roll back. An aging engine and ancient mechanics as well as a custom of outsourcing core development to the community. No wonder people are choosing to cheat and exploit the heck out of the game. And as shown, they have every moral right to do so. Because Bethesda lied. Because Todd lied. And because their cheating seems mostly harmless, only hurting future microtransaction sales as Bethesda will undoubtedly attempt to milk its consumers for items and solutions that should have been there from the start.

Spare a thought to what would happen in a couple of years from now when the population has shrunk down to a level that Bethesda sees no real value in keeping the servers alive? People will not be able to go back and play the game since the servers would simply won’t be there. All the mods, all the grind, all that hard work, gone with a flip of a switch. And who can guarantee it won’t happen? Can anyone believe Bethesda’s word after the countless debacles this year? Yeah, I thought so myself.

You can’t, after more than a decade, go to the community you fostered, the community you conditioned to seek solutions outside the company, to use cheats in order to overcome the myriad of glitches and archaic mechanics in your game, and tell them they are in the wrong. You can’t create a half baked product whose multiplayer component seems almost an afterthought and whose PvP is a joke, and wag your finger at us for exploiting it as we try to glean some enjoyment out of this mess. You can’t call us cheaters, Todd, with flimsy proofs after you cheated all of us with this barely functional heap of garbage. The cheaters in Fallout 76 hurt no one and at least have fun. You Todd, and the entire upper management, cheated millions of their money and seem intent on keep screwing your remaining customers. So I don’t think you have the moral ground to call us cheaters while sitting on a throne of lies and broken promises, Todd.

You can send me my grade to youareagoddamnliar@pleaseresign.com. I am waiting with abetted breath for your reply.

The Fallout Fallout

Fallout 76 is out and the verdict seems to be a public lynching

The first time I learned of Fallout 76’s existence was a week before its release when I started seeing reviews of its beta. To say I wasn’t really interested would be an understatement. I haven’t touched the series since Fallout: New Vegas which I bought at a bargain price, played a few hours then uninstalled.

I have found the Fallout series, in particular under the Bethesda banner, to be a messy, buggy, visually outdated, clunky games whose stories lacked agency and interest. The real interesting stories were often buried under terrible UI design and scattered in empty brown sandboxes. The shooting mechanics were terrible for a first person shooter and the character mechanics were too dumb for any serious role playing game. The worst of two worlds is the way I often viewed the series.

As disclaimers go, its quite long but I hope you readers get the message: I don’t like the Fallout game series. However, I can’t deny their cultural importance or the place they hold in mainstream gaming. Thus I just turn a blind eye to them and focus on more interesting aspects of gaming. For that reason, I had no interest in Fallout 4, only taking notice of its mixed reception the same way a passenger on a train takes interest in the landscape flowing past their window. Yet Fallout 76 seems to have done something quite extraordinary for me to not be able to ignore it: It made Fallout fans angry.

While I admit there is some satisfaction in seeing an enraged fanbase of what I view as mediocre game series turn on its creators, I have to try and think on WHY it happened. Why did this game offend so many in the Fallout community as to review bomb the game, have news outlets damn it and give it scores so low, lower in fact than Kane and Lynch, a game so terrible that it only warranted a 6(!) on Gamestop. Like a witness to a trainwreck, I feel compelled to watch and try to decipher the mess.

Watching the many reviews online, I personally don’t get the hate. Visually the game is indistinguishable from Fallout 4: Ugly. Bethesda games were always quite graphically impaired, filled with clunky character animations, horrible shooting mechanics and copy pasted interiors. Not much has changed on that front in Fallout 76. Next is the story or lack of. People complain about the fact there are no NPC characters to give life to the wasteland but in all my experiences with Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas that is an upgrade. Bethesda’s Fallout series never had much life in it and what NPCs you could interact with would often stare at you lifelessly or repeat their pre-programed routine, making you feel as though you were wandering in an animatronic theme park.

Next comes the bugs, but as infuriating and game crashing as Fallout 76’s bugs are, how do they differ from all the previous incarnations in the series? Bethesda has a reputation, A REPUTATION, as a shoddy game developer that pushes half baked products on store shelves, does only the minimal bug fixing and often relying on the community to debug its games. Those that bought the newest game have no right to be outraged in that regard.

Gameplay then, is the last aspect to explore as to the cause of the outrage. That said, there is little change on that front. It is still the same horrible shooting mechanics and lack of meaningful character progression. This time though, instead of choosing perks every few levels you get ability cards that help customize your character and perhaps supply an opening for another avenue of microtransactions. Not much change from Fallout 4. There is still the stupid looting and building mechanics that add very little to the game. The only two major changes in my eyes are the survival aspects (needing to manage your food and water) and the VATS system.

The survival aspects themselves are almost token, and don’t seem to intrude much on the overall Fallout experience while the VATS system change is, well, dumb. In the past, VATS was a nice pause button or a free “Get Out of Jail” card if things got hectic in a shootout. You could take time to pick targets, choose what organs to shoot for maximum success\damage then see it unfold in slow motion. Since Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game, you can’t really pause the server for every individual so VATS was changed to basically an aimbot. No, I am not kidding. It is literally an aimbot, allowing you to target an enemy and lock onto them with your weapons with hardly any player input.

Did I forget to say Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game? Yeah, I guess we found the reason for the outrage. The biggest problem for Fallout 76 is its multiplayer aspect. Not because the experience itself is horrible, after all as I demonstrated, there is little deviation from the games that came before it. That said, by making it a multiplayer game, Bethesda has pretty much shot itself in the foot.

The problem with making it a multiplayer game is that what little immersion there was in the game is basically ruined. Not only are the people in the server total strangers who may dress in wacky outfits and make rude gestures at the player, they also queue to the same events and stories, meaning they hinder quest completion as well as the immersion itself. After all, part of the “Charm” (With the biggest quotation marks possible) was the solo exploration aspect.

Don’t get me wrong, players had been clamoring for a cooperative Fallout experience (The sadists!) but not one populated by a myriad of strangers who keep running around, knocking things over and just reinforcing the emptiness of the world. In a way, Bethesda managed to expose the cheapness of the Fallout experience by shedding light on it with multiplayer gameplay.

Of course, this isn’t the only reason why Fallout 76 is receiving such pillorying. The multiplayer only aspect was merely the catalyst that lit the powder keg. The real explosive powder was the fanbase’s expectations of the game. While Bethesda marketed the game with an emphasis on multiplayer and survival, they did try to have it both ways by either being evasive on the singleplayer aspect, (You know, the thing that made the series popular) or claiming the multiplayer aspect won’t hinder it (Which it doesn’t, until you get disconnected from the server and lose all your progress). Of course, they also lied about performance and graphics but that is small potatoes compared to the main selling point of the game – Exploration.

After all, Fallout games (and Elder Scrolls games for that matter) are all about the exploration. You can yell “Story” from the top of mount Everest for all you like, but all Bethesda main stories (and many side stories) are total rubbish. Playing more than two hundred hours of Skyrim I didn’t feel once the urge to continue the main plotline. It was the lore and exploration which drove the game for me. The same is true for Fallout. The game series is good in spite of its stories, not because of them. However Fallout 76 doesn’t even have that good an exploration drive. After all its not the player exploring an unknown wasteland, its a bunch of players doing it. With the spell of crafting a unique experience broken, all the faults that have existed in the series since Fallout 3 came to bite its studio in the ass.

Yes, there is nothing new in the complaints of the Fallout fanbase. Bethesda continued to dilute the series, dumbing it down for mass appeal. It seems that this time they simply crossed a line that allowed the rubes to realize they were robbed. The degradation of the series was there for all to see, but I guess you only become aware of it with a crowd, with open mics running around an event and killing the boss before you can get your chance.

I feel like a lot of the outrage comes from waking up. The army of fans who really liked the series and deluded themselves into thinking a messy, buggy game that somehow gets worse with each iteration is worth it for the experience. When that experience was cheapened by the addition of the online component, they woke up to see they’ve been living in a slum catching fire and the landlord doesn’t give a damn saying instead “It just works!”. Yeah, I guess I’d be angry too.

That said, the only recourse those fans have is either try to force a refund (Which is a tad problematic since Bethesda made their own launcher and sold it outside of Steam for what I believe could be this very reason) or boycott Bethesda products. Don’t buy the new Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI. That said, we all know that fans often like to forgive abusive game companies because they liked previous games of theirs and they hold franchises to ransom. I don’t like to make allusions to battered spouses, but it sure feels that way. Would Fallout 76’s outrage live long enough to make gamers ditch Bethesda? I feel a tad cynical in saying “I don’t think so” because like every battered spouse they’d go back after a promise of “We are sorry” and “We will change and take your feedback into account”. After all, they made Skyrim! (and how many years has it been since Skyrim?). Todd wouldn’t lie (narrator’s voice: Todd always lies).

Bethesda, Bethesda never changes.